Conroe, December 28 – Montgomery County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport’s efforts to hide her office policies from the public suffered two additional blows during the past week. First, County Attorney J.D. Lambright refused to represent Davenport in seeking an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that Davenport doesn’t have to disclose her office procedures manual to Melanie Pryor Bush, who is running against Davenport in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, and the public. Second, Bush filed her own letter brief with General Paxton yesterday in which she carefully explained the law concerning public information requests and tore Davenport’s flimsy attempt to hide her procedures apart.
To Davenport, it’s clearly all about politics. Her office policies are little more than screen shots concerning how to use the County’s computer system. While Davenport recently began to claim that her withholding the office procedure manual from Bush and the general public is to prevent some sort of fraud against the County government, it’s pretty clear that Davenport is really hiding a meaningless set of 700 pages which reveal Davenport knows quite little about her own job. Davenport’s efforts are all about delay. She wants Paxton to delay a decision requiring her to release the information until after the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. Davenport has already told attorneys in the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office that she will file suit against Paxton after he, as expected, will order Davenport to release the information.
Bush accused Davenport of changing her position on the procedures manual on December 27. Bush, who is President of the Conroe Independent School District Board of Trustees, wrote:
“Over time, though, Davenport’s position on the procedure manual has changed. She first said the manual could be disclosed, but within a day or two, she said that account numbers and login credentials would need to be redacted. Then, she decided there were too many redactions to disclose it. Davenport’s 10-day letter [to Bush] cited every single PIA [Public Information Act] exemption and common law privacy…Finally, in open Commissioners Court, Davenport announced she was really concerned about the anti-fraud procedures in the manual. Never before had this come up.”
The County Attorney, Lambright, refuses to side with Davenport
On December 1, 2017, Bush made an Open Records Act request to Davenport for her procedures manual and accounting procedures as well as some other government records. Bush is running against Davenport for County Treasurer as a reformer in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election.
Almost immediately, Davenport contacted the County Attorney’s Office to seek help in keeping her County Treasurer procedures manual and accounting procedures secret.
Assistant County Attorney John McKinney contacted Bush and told her verbally that Davenport would only allow Bush to view the procedures manual at the Sadler Administration Building but would not allow Bush to have copies of the open records. Bush told McKinney that she would agree to the procedure initially but reserved the right to receive copies.
Meanwhile, McKinney informed the Texas Attorney General’s Open Records Division of the proposed procedure. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Office immediately informed McKinney that the procedure of only allowing viewing of the documents but not copying, was not compliant with the Texas Open Records Act. McKinney told Davenport on Wednesday, December 13, 2017, who then instructed the County Attorney’s Office to withhold the procedures manual and accounting procedures entirely.
On Thursday, December 14, 2017, McKinney sent Bush a letter on behalf of Davenport formally to respond to Bush’s Open Records Act request. Davenport, through McKinney, told Bush that the County Treasurer’s Office accounting procedures and procedures manual would not be disclosed. Davenport has instructed McKinney to seek a formal opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether she must withhold the documents. Davenport has also already instructed McKinney and the County Attorney’s Office to sue Paxton in the likely event that Paxton will rule that Davenport must turn over the documents!
Clearly, Davenport knows that Texas Attorney General Paxton will rule against her, but she doesn’t want the public or Bush to see her accounting procedures (or lack thereof) or her procedures manual (or lack thereof) prior to the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election.
The Golden Hammer broke the story concerning Davenport’s efforts to hide her office policies from Bush and the public on December 16. Please see “Montgomery County Treasurer Davenport To Violate Texas Open Records Act, Texas Open Meetings Act In Attempt At Government Secrecy,” The Golden Hammer, December 16, 2017.
During the December 19 Commissioners Court meeting, Davenport asked the Commissioners Court to declare office procedures confidential, but the Court refused. Davenport told the Commissioners Court that this situation is “the Melanie and Eric show,” referring to Bush and to the Publisher of Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper. In reality, Davenport wanted the Commissioners Court of Montgomery County somehow to overrule Texas law by superseding the Texas Public Information Act/Open Records Act. Davenport’s attempt to get the Commissioners Court to override Texas law to protect her politically would seem more to constitute “the Stephanne and Marc show,” referring, of course, to Davenport and her husband corrupt political boss Marc Davenport who attended the Commissioners Court with her to cheer for his wife’s bizarre actions.
Davenport’s attempt to get the Commissioners Court to override Texas law to protect her politically would seem more to constitute “the Stephanne and Marc show,” referring, of course, to Davenport and her husband corrupt political boss Marc Davenport who attended the Commissioners Court with her to cheer for his wife’s bizarre actions.
During the Commissioners Court meeting, Lambright, who has reviewed the County Treasurer’s office procedures manual himself, made clear that he would not condone Davenport’s wrongful withholding of the documents from Bush and the general public. Lambright also said that neither he nor his assistant county attorneys would help Davenport hide the documents or try to convince the Attorney General that she should do so.
On December 22, Davenport sent a poorly written letter to Attorney General Paxton on her own behalf in which she begged the Attorney General to rule that her office procedures somehow constituted “credit card, debit card, charge card, and access device numbers.” (Emphasis added.) An office procedures manual is just that: a manual of office procedures, not account numbers. Bush has made clear she didn’t request any account numbers.
In fact, it’s highly questionable why Davenport would include credit card, debit card, charge card, or access device numbers in an office procedure manual. Perhaps, what Davenport also seeks to hide is her willingness to subject the Montgomery County government to a security breach by including account numbers in an operating procedure manual.
Desperately, Davenport also claimed that Attorney General Paxton should find that her Treasurer’s Office procedure manual somehow “constitutes security or infrastructure issues for computers.” Once again, Davenport clearly suffers from confusion. While her husband, corrupt political boss Marc Davenport, has attempted to take charge of the County’s Information Technology Department – please see, for example, “Montgomery County Government ‘For Sale’ (Part 11): Marc Davenport’s In Charge,” The Golden Hammer, December 5, 2017 – there is no indication whatsoever that County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport has either competence or has in actuality prepared procedures for security or infrastructure issues for computers. That’s what the Information Technology Department of the County government should and, mostly, does do.
In her December 22, 2017, letter to Attorney General Paxton, Davenport tried to argue that her Treasurer’s Office procedure manual should be confidential, because other documents that have nothing whatsoever with the information Bush requested should be confidential.
Bush’s December 27 letter to Attorney General Paxton
Bush responded to Davenport’s December 22 letter to Attorney General Paxton with a letter of her own.
Bush noted that neither she nor the general public have requested any account numbers nor have she or the public sought information technology network security information.
Instead, Bush made clear,
“The reason for Bush’s open records request is simple – to examine the adequacy and efficiency of how the Treasurer’s Office accounts for taxpayer funds. The procedure manual should explain the Treasurer’s accounting procedures. Evaluating those procedures goes straight to the merits of election the best candidate.”
Bush concluded her detailed discussion of the Texas Public Information Act (“PIA”)/Open Records Act with the following:
“In her letter’s conclusion, Davenport recites a list of the frauds she believes could be perpetrated against Montgomery County should her accounting procedures manual fall into the wrong hands. But the Texas Legislature has already weighed her concerns – against our state’s overriding public policy of open government. Any concerns that outweigh the policy of governing in the daylight are reflected in the PIA’s exemptions. But none apply here.”
Bush requested that Attorney General Paxton render “a reasonably prompt opinion” well before the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election. Of course, Davenport will likely file suit to make sure the document doesn’t see the light of day prior to the election.